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Across the pond with Rex Wailes: To Pittsburgh

Extracts from Rex Wailes’ 1929 diary of his trip to the USA and Canada. Part 20.

Poster Image

Observation platorm of a train on the Great Northern Railway, USA


On Monday the 27th. I took “The Metropolitan” leaving Philadelphia for Pittsburgh at 11.25 a.m. I sat in the parlour car, but the view through gauze was not satisfactory, and at Harrisburg I went to the platform of the observation car. This is a filthy dirty place as one rides in a sort of vacuum into which all the dust from the track is drawn up.

Bridge over the Susquehama, Harrisburg, Teresa Boardman from St. Paul MN, USA [CC BY (]

On leaving Harrisburg we crossed the Susquehama river by a long flat viaduct type of bridge and ran along the south side of the river. At Lewistown we passed the works of the Viscose Co. self styled “The Worlds largest manufacturers of Rayon”. Here too, were gloss sand quarries, where in one place, they were washing down the sand from the cliff face, with a water jet, and in another, they appeared to be cutting away a rock face along the lines of shear for the same purpose.

Dogwood trees in flower. Photo by and (c)2007 Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man) [CC BY-SA (]

It was in this locality, that I first noticed dogwood trees in flower. They have hanging bunches of white flowers and look very attractive indeed. We must try to get some seed for the garden and raise one or two.

On leaving Altoona, the train is double headed, and climbs up into the mountains by means of steep grades and the famous Horseshoe curve. Here it doubles right round and the scenery is very fine. Unfortunately a party of “Knights Templars” (a Masonic order) and their wives came out to see this, and spoilt the view by standing between me and it. They left at a tunnel which we came to soon afterwards. One has to retire inside for these, or get dirtier than ever. 

The “horseshoe curve”

We reached a peak just before Cresson and came thundering down the grade. The dust got worse, and we rocked more and more, and nearly everyone left the platform. Although we were high up, the country was fairly open, and the brown colour of the streams shewed that we were entering an ironstone district. The first mines came into view at South York. From here to Pittsburgh we are in a huge manufacturing area that grows thicker as we go on, and is not unlike Sheffield and district.

Johnstown is an airport on the transcontinental line, which is at present operating at 10 c per mile and 25 lbs. of free baggage. I went to the Fort Pitt Hotel, which is close to the station. It was a bad time. Knights Templars and their woman folk were pouring into Pittsburgh for a “Convention” from all over the U. S. They appeared to arrive at ½ hour intervals at the hotel, and each party was played from the station right into the hotel foyer by a large brass band, complete with saxophones, usually to the strains of “Onward Christian Soldiers” and “Colonel Bogey”. My room on the 8th floor was hot, dark and noisy. One could not see to read without a light at any time. The main line to Chicago appeared to pass a few hundred feet away (they don’t use yards in the U. S. – in conversation at any rate) and the exhaust fan shaft, ventilating all the public rooms, passed up the wall just opposite. In addition, it was sweltering hot, with no breeze.